Northern Ireland: A Personal Tour
North Pole at Derry, N. Ireland
Shannon to Derry
"C'mere a wee minute will ye? I've got somethin to show ye." In Derry, Northern Ireland, C’meer a wee minute is a means of attracting someone’s attention when you want to tell them something, and you thought the Irish only spoke English and Gaelic? Well now that I have your attention I’d like to tell you about that little bit of heaven known as Ireland, with a focus on the North.
If you’ve read any of my other hubs, I have one entitled The Irish Are Coming, and this is where you’d meet our Peter. You have to know we consider Peter our 5th child. Peter lives in Northern Ireland and after several visits here we finally agreed to take him up on his offer and go visit him in Ireland. Most of our friends thought we were crazy in 1999 when we said we were going to Ireland and were planning on staying in Northern Ireland. Things weren’t 100% settled there and most people went to Dublin or Kilarney, but not us! We headed right to the heart of the matter and stayed in Derry.
Right off, the English call Derry - Londonderry and get death on (very much opposed to) when you call it Derry. Once when trying to call our Peter in Derry I had to talk to an overseas operator and ask him for a Derry phone number. He quickly corrected me and said, “you mean Londonderry” to which I replied, “no, Derry.” It took a bit of back and forth but we finally got the right phone number. So, we’re planning a trip to Derry to stay with Peter. Of course we fly Aer Lingus out of Kennedy Airport, a 2 hour drive from where we live. Approximately 7 hours flying time to Shannon. The drive from Shannon to Derry, approximately another 3 hours. Peter and his wife are at the airport when we arrive. We load all our luggage into the big car Peter borrowed from his father to fit our luggage. The “big” car barely fits 4 adults and our luggage is crammed in everywhere, but we’re off. As an aside, there are very few really big cars in Ireland. The few that are there are owned by wealthy foreigners for the most part. Before we were to see Peter’s house we got to stop at the Ulster American Folk Park. The Ulster American Folk Park displays the drama behind three centuries of Irish emigration, telling the remarkable story of the vast human tide that crossed the Atlantic for the New World of North America. With statues. thatched huts and cobbled streets. A great introduction to Ireland.
From Welcome to Grainin of Aileach
We arrive at Peter’s place in Derry. A very cozy two story house. Every house in Ireland has a small fireplace to keep the chill off in colder months. Not a lot of trees to cut down, especially in Derry, so everyone burns peat also known as turf. Peat is harvested from bogs made from rotted vegetable matter that is cut into blocks with a shovel. Then it’s dried and ready to burn. Moving right along, we stayed in a small upstairs bedroom with windows that looked out into the street.
Our “initiation” began with Peter’s family and an evening at the bowling alley. The bowling alley had a bar where socialization takes place. Have you ever had a Guinness? A real Irish Guinness? Our sociable friends provided my husband with five pints of them! Before he could finish one pint, there were four more lined up. A true stalwart American, he finished them all and walked out on his own with nary a tilt!
Our next short trip was to Grainin of Aileach, a temple of the sun and a group of Irish monuments built on the hill of Grainin, dating from 2,000 BC. Can you imagine? We think the 1700’s are old in this country. St. Patrick preached here in 450 A.D.! You can see it is circular, and I only slipped off the structure once.
The Irish People and Derry
The Irish people are unique individuals and through Peter we got to meet the real Irish people, not just the ones who cater to tourists. The true, sociable and witty people. And the neighbors, ah what a diverse group. There were of course a few out of work gentlemen, one retired gentleman, and Peter’s Da, a true sweetheart. This group of gentlemen met every day for a cup of tea out on the street, tea which Peter’s mother usually provided. Tea, cigarettes and socialization. If we overslept, we could hear them on the street from our front window and quickly joined them for great conversation and laughs. Our window to the street kept us informed of the activities out there. We noticed that Americans sentences end on the downbeat while the Irish end on the upbeat just like the Irish people. The jokes and laughs were priceless. We also went to the local bakery in the morning to buy baps (hard rolls) for breakfast. We heard many a Derry phrase such as “Well Away” meaning doing well; of course everyone knows a weein is a small child. To bust out is to be overcome by a fit of laughing; dotter is a daughter; Git a Wee Rim Roun is to pay a visit. This is a teeny tiny sample of Derry-talk.
Derry City is a lovely city and the second largest in Ireland. It is also the only completely walled city in the British Isles. There’s a lovely Craft Village and a large two story mall called the Foyleside Shopping Center. From the Derry wall you can see “the Bogside” (also known as the Foyle) which is outside the City walls. It was a focal point during the Troubles and has many large muraled walls. The Bogside also has the “Free Derry Corner." On some of the streets of Derry “the colors” are painted on the curbs. “The colors” designate British/Protestant areas. One surprise we found was Derry crystal, we thought the only Irish crystal was Waterford. Derry crystal is lovely and delicate.
Portrush and Carndonnagh
Peter’s family took us to Portrush. What a surprise, a beach and amusement park in Ireland. Portrush is a seaside town located in County Antrim. We watched the ocean and gambled a little though we didn’t understand how much or how little we were gambling since we hadn’t figured out the currency difference. We visited Ballylifin Beach, a spot famous for surfing in Ireland, located in Inishowen. We went to Carndonnagh to visit Peter’s wife’s parents. Here, Her father offered my husband a drink of Jameson’s whiskey. He didn’t want to be rude though he doesn’t drink whiskey so he said yes. To our surprise, Sally’s dad poured a water glass full of Jameson’s, downed it immediately and went to cut turf. My husband asked for water to try and water it down but never finished even the watered down version.
Moville to Westport
But, we weren’t to stay just here in Derry. Peter had planned a short tour of Ireland starting in Derry and driving to the south of Ireland. His car was small but once we were on the road we appreciated it’s size. The roads are very narrow and in some spots the growth on the side of the road makes you think you are the only person on the only existing road in the world. You can’t see a thing, including whether or not there’s a car coming ‘round the bend. We visited Moville, and Muff (a village in Donegal noted for its summer “Muff Festival”) and stopped at Greencastle ruins. Greencastle was built in 1305 and even though the castle is no longer there it was a thrill to climb the stairs that were left. I have to tell one of our most memorable moments were the ‘roundabouts’. There are no stop lights in the Irish countryside, just roundabouts to divert traffic. By the fourth or fifth roundabout all we could do was laugh when we saw one and then proceed round the roundabout. We visited Yeats grave at Ballysadore and then on to Westport to look for a B&B to spend the night. We stayed at a place called Dunnings and were lucky to have the last room available. It was an attic room with the four of us sleeping in the same room. The laughs started as we walked up what seemed like a million steps and when my husband had to use the bathroom. He had to open the skylight in the bathroom to stick his head out so he could stand in front of the toilet because the roof was slanted so low. We were in Quare form (good spirits.)
Town of Cong to Tipperary
Next was stop was the town of Cong in the county Mayo, where the John Wayne film “The Quiet Man” was filmed. What a frill (feeling of excitement.) Interestingly the cottage used in the film was moved form the countryside into the village so it was more accessible to tourists. Some of the clothes worn by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara are set up in the cottage. A brown shawl Maureen O’Hara wore was given to her by a local to wear and is over 200 years old.
Next was the Castle at Cong known as the Ashford Castle. A castle turned hotel for upscale visitors. We stayed at the Pineforest House in Blarney, the nicest B&B we stayed at during our tour. You noticed Blarney so you know what’s next, Blarney Castle and yes, we kissed the Blarney stone!
Our travels took us to County Cork, and a quick run through and on to the Cashel Castle. It took 65 years to build just the Church at Cashel Castle. We stayed at another B&B in Athlone, the very center of Ireland. This B&B and its owner defy description. Let’s just say she was a cross between Peg Bundy and Mrs. Roper.
Our last stop was a quick one in Tipperary, back to Derry and a surprise meeting with the Mayor. Peter’s mother had contacted the Mayor and told him of our dedication to Project Children. In return, he asked us to his chambers and presented us with a Mayor’s Plaque of the City of Derry with a local newspaper photographer there to immortalize the moment. What an honor and surprise.
Our journeys weren’t over yet. After meeting the Mayor and staying back in Derry, we traveled to Glenveagh. The Park was beautiful and the weather warm so Peter suggested we walk to the Castle rather than take the bus. The views were spectacular, however, what he neglected to tell us was the walk was 4 ½ miles in to the castle and it was the hottest summer Ireland had had in years! This was our last excursion in Ireland so we did it with a bang.
This article may seem like it rambles or is too long but it hasn’t scratched the surface of Northern Ireland and its wonderful people. I couldn’t decide whether this should be a geography piece, a travelogue or just my rambling. I don’t have to tell you which one I chose. In all of Ireland shop people helped us try to count out our money to buy souvenirs, truck drivers stopped and talked to my husband (who was still a truck driver then.) Peter’s neighbors treated us like we were their neighbors. I think that would sum up the people of Ireland, they treat you like neighbors.
(Irish phrases used in this article were taken from The Wile Big Derry Phrasebook by Seamus McConnell.)
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